Nearly ten days ago I arrived on the hot and sunny southeast coast of France, the Côte d’Azur, for a one month stay at the former home of America’s favorite French chef, Julia Child. What follows here is a somewhat rambling compendium of my first glimpse of La Pitchoune; La Peetch to Julia.
My role at La Peetch is that of concierge; apparently something that I am, as a wife, mother, and grandmother, very qualified to do. Julia and Paul’s three bedroom home, and famous kitchen, has been rented out for the month via AirBnb. The weekly guests are all American; Julia Child’s nearly cult-like following is almost exclusively stateside. Our first guests departed on Wednesday morning, affording me my first glimpse into the interior of La Peetch. Enter the kitchen door (main entrance, of course) and the first thing that greets you is the legendary pegboard wall. Paul Child has been gone for over 20 years, but his Sharpie-sketched, culinary organizational map is as clear as ever. “Where does this small whisk go? How about the smaller measuring cup?” “A place for everything and everything in its place,” was obviously the mantra at La Peetch. Even the small plastic drawers for storing garlic, shallots, and the like are labeled with 1960s red Dymo labels (remember them?). Except for needing a stepstool (JC was 6’2”), putting away things in the kitchen at La Peetch is easy peasy. Beyond my obvious visual excitement, my sense of smell is overwhelmingly aroused by an intense aroma of garlic. Seeing no visual traces of garlic, and knowing that the most recent guests had not cooked on their last night, I can only assume that, after years and years of broiling, browning, roasting and sizzling, le parfum d’ail has permeated the cracks and crevices of La Peetch’s kitchen. Clearly, no amount of cleaning products will rid cette cuisine of its well-earned fragrance. Why would I want to sanitize it, anyway?
Moving past the kitchen, the rest of the house is neat, tidy, and charmingly provençale. There are three bedrooms, three and a half bathrooms, a large living and dining area with French doors that open out to a lovely patio. There are bookcases galore, and they are predominantly filled with every piece of material ever written about Julia Child (added by the last owner), as well as cookbooks and travel guides to the Côte d’Azur and Provence. There is no television. There is no radio. There is, thankfully, wifi. La Peetch’s future is that of a cooking retreat. Television and radio would only provide distraction (something, at that point, I was craving more than a salade Niçoise!) and, let’s admit, we are all distracted. Moving outside, the patio is blessedly covered with thick wisteria vines, offering much-needed protection from the intense August sun. On the patio are two bistro-style table and chair sets; ideal for sipping local rosés. Beyond the patio is a saltwater swimming pool and unparalleled views of the neighboring village of Grasse, known for its long-established perfume industry. The 3-acre, stone-terraced property is delightfully unmanicured (from this suburban writer’s point of view). Rosemary is omnipresent; tumbling over walls and along the rough and tumble driveway and paths. The property is awash in shades of pinks and white from blooming oleander. Everywhere you look are olive trees. Sadly, the olives will not be ready to be picked until autumn (trust me, they taste nasty this early, and untreated).
I sleep in the owner’s cottage, known affectionately as le cabanon (shed!), just a stone’s throw from the main house. It is small, but comfortable and air conditioned (as is the main house). There is also another outbuilding which houses a washer and dryer and a large storage area. Speaking of washer and dryer, I have to get going with laundry and house cleaning…there are more guests scheduled to arrive shortly.